On March 28, 2010, the Vancouver Island Hempology 101 Club hosted its 1st Annual Cannabis Convention, at which I had the honor of being the final speaker. Though I have hosted 11 similar conventions at the University of Victoria, this was the first time I scheduled speaking time for myself.
The crowd was an interesting combination of seasoned activists, students eager to act upon what they have learned, and medical users still new to the idea that the best way to maintain their health is to break the law. Therefore, I tried to focus upon strategies people can take to address various problems cannabis activists face and opportunities that some may not have considered.
Since my speech was not written down, those wishing to hear word-for-word what I said can easily watch the YouTube video, along with the rest of the convention. My intent in presenting this article is to cover the 10 points I raised in ways that compliment my original presentation.
The 10 areas of difficulty and opportunity I will focus on are media, politics, research, religion, environmentalism, police, athletes, celebrities, farmers and the academic world.
Our diversity as a movement is our greatest strength. It allows the cannabis community to attack the issue on all fronts, while maximizing all of the potential benefits this plant has to offer. Too many cannabis activists and their supporters feel discouraged when it becomes clear that people seeking reform are not working together. A wonderful thing about being human is being able to enjoy the company of people who live their lives in a completely different manner than we personally choose. While we may have a collective goal in the re-introduction of cannabis into society, my opinion it would be counter-productive if everyone tried to work together. We would spend more time debating than acting upon our convictions.
We need to utilize a variety of methods to disseminate information into the mainstream media. Getting accurate information through the media has proved a near-impossible task at times, but providing the public with facts and arguments in favour of drug policy reform is absolutely critical. There are several strategies that individuals and groups can use to maximize media resources. Letters to editors and reporters, or placing phone calls if one is not comfortable with the written word, are effective ways of educating influential people in the media. Try to help the press out. Forward information to local media regarding important cannabis news. This will build relationships with individual members of the press and encourage coverage, resulting in stories reaching the public that may otherwise be ignored.
Creating your own media is the next step. Getting your message out there without the clutter of mainstream media’s mistakes is a proactive step one can take towards controlling the messages the public hears. Web pages are a great place to start, though it is often easier to join an existing online community of activists than start your own from scratch. Social networking sites are another means to keep informed and release news to the masses. Making videos, taking pictures and writing blogs are other easy ways to help get your message out. Don’t limit yourself to the online world however. In an attempt to replace the void left behind in the print world when Cannabis Culture stopped printing last year, the International Hempology 101 Society has turned its newsletter into the same format as a student newspaper. The Cannabis Digest will allow us to inform the public about proposed legislation, case law, medical cannabis dispensary activities, industrial hemp developments, events and drug reform personalities while providing supportive businesses with an opportunity to advertise directly to herb enthusiasts. As the advertising base and story submissions of the The Cannabis Digest grow, we will increase the distribution range, printing more papers and eventually publishing more issues every year.
Although working with media can be a challenge at times, it seems to have an important link into political change. Influencing political figures and government bureaucrats can be a very time-consuming and frustrating endeavour. Luckily, politicians often react more to media reports and constituents than to their own personal agendas. To be as successful as possible when advocating for change, it is best to approach government employees and political assistants with friendly but persistent attempts to make small improvements in policy and practice. Essentially, a successful lobby is making a friend. Getting involved in the organization behind political parties is another way to get on the agenda and ensure potential representatives are informed about the issues that affect us as cannabis users. Time educating office staff and supporters of politicians between elections can ensure that as soon as an election is called the candidate is well-informed and prepared to at least condemn the cannabis laws.
Though it is beyond the ability of most cannabis lovers to conduct or fund scientific studies, the public’s acceptance of cannabis depends greatly upon opinions held within the research community. Encouraging local news stories to cover positive cannabis research and writing letters of support to funding partners or organizations conducting quality cannabis research, can support good science. A large portion of current university students have witnessed the pain-killing, anti-nausea and safe relaxation effects of cannabis in their personal lives. These students will one day be the leaders of our country but in the meantime they provide and important tie between academics and the real world. Exposing flaws in poor science that receives media attention is something that activists must learn how to do. Provide media organizations and individual journalists that publish questionable studies with contacts to researchers, access to more credible science and an explanation of how bad science is flawed. By supporting proper scientific methodologies, individuals can have an impact on what the public learns about cannabis.
Currently there is research being done around the world on cannabis. Unfortunately, the Journal of Industrial Hemp stopped printing over a year ago and there is no longer a peer-reviewed journal that is focused upon the plant. Without a peer-reviewed journal to condense the top science in the field, cannabis researchers struggle to get printed. The lack of current accurate science to back up legal arguments makes it more difficult for lawyers to convince judges and legislators of the follies of prohibition. It is the intention of the International Hempology 101 Society to publish a peer-reviewed journal in the next few years, hopefully with the assistance of Dr. David Pate, Dr. James Geiwitz, Dr. Paul Hornby and other scientists interested and experienced in the subject.
It is ironic that people with fundamental religious beliefs are often proud prohibitionists. While it is natural to confront prohibitionists that have strong religious beliefs, cannabis activists can dismantle their position by highlighting the ideals we hold in common. Since many fundamentalist groups have faced discrimination and violence due to no fault of their own, one approach can be to promote good will towards your fellow humans and that we do not deserve harsh punishments for our innocent behaviour. Getting fundamental religious people to acknowledge that any Supreme Being responsible for creating the universe also made the natural environment from which this herb developed can be another useful strategy.
Most religions have a sacrament or ceremonies that celebrate our ability to communicate with spiritual entities. While some people may react negatively to comparisons of cannabis to wine or other sacraments, referring to one’s use of the herb as a means of feeling more in touch with nature or a greater spirit can help them identify with you, as most strongly religious people like to think of themselves as being sensitive to their environment.
In fact, comparing cannabis to wine is a very excellent way to convince people of the vast economic benefits that could come from a properly regulated cannabis industry. Equating the strategy for the legalization of cannabis to how the wine industry works helps provide a framework for people to see how various business opportunities could be developed and regulated. It should be possible for cannabis entrepreneurs to open small cafes or Bed & Breakfasts in the countryside where they could show customers herb in various stages of growing and curing, or otherwise sell their product in stores, clubs or restaurants just like the wine industry works, with varying levels of taxation. Likewise, a person could grow a small amount at their home for personal use, similar to growing grape vines for home-brewed wine, without any interference from the government.
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Professional environmental and human rights activist groups should all be vocal opponents to the drug war and fierce supporters of the hemp plant. Instead, hemp is rarely mentioned by people fighting to save the trees, nor are death sentences and long prison terms mentioned by groups such as Amnesty International. Even David Suzuki, a supposed environmentally-friendly Canadian, has recently promoted the use of GMO soya beans for essential fatty acids and proteins, acting as if hemp seed is not an alternative at all, while also producing a questionable television show regarding the effects of smoking cannabis upon people with pre-existing mental health issues. More pressure needs to be put upon environmental and human rights groups to speak our against the drug war and promote the use of cannabis in all its various forms.
Celebrities also need to be encouraged to speak out in favour of legalization. Musicians, actors, artists, sports heroes, journalists and people successful in business have a tremendous amount of influence over the public. Many are cannabis users or allies. Supporting famous people like Sting, who recently publicly denounced the drug war, Woody Harrelson, Willie Nelson and others who publicly advocate their support for the herb, is very important. They are likely to get contacted by some who are not happy with their position and giving them encouragement will help convince others it is safe to come out of the closet. Given the intense attention paid to celebrities in this age, we need to convince them take advantage of their fame for the improvement of society.
Though most athletes do not become well known for their opinion, sports stars have the ability to bring attention to important issues in a variety of other ways. Whether it is helping with a fundraiser, writing a letter, wearing cannabis t-shirts, eating hemp nuts, speaking at rallies or funding a campaign, high-profile athletes have the potential get a lot of attention. Efforts to fight cannabis testing in sports would gain broad support among retired, future, professional and amateur athletes, educating the public about the impact of cannabis use on performance.
While it is difficult for some to consider people in law enforcement as allies, every time a cannabis consumer interacts with a police officer they have an opportunity to educate them about the plant and how it helps them. Acting cool, calm and collected when dealing with police can bring down their defenses, giving them an opportunity to relax and think about what you are saying. Though an officer may not stop what they are doing if they have already began processing you for an offense, being polite, informative and helpful puts them in an awkward situation where it is hard for them to justify punishing you because you are a breaking their stereotype of a drug using deviant. If you appear no different than their friends, family and co-workers, and do not act like a criminal in any way, it becomes hard for them to think of you as a criminal. Over time officers exposed to nice people caught with the herb will realize that cannabis users are not causing anyone a problem, and that we are often better behaved than the average citizen.
When I decided to become involved in Hempology 101 in 1995 one of my goals was to publish a textbook printed on hemp paper grown by my family in Ontario. I believe that the cannabis movement would benefit by doing more to promote using hemp. While most youth grow up understanding the failures of the drug war, learning about the historical and current restrictions placed upon hemp can be an eye opening experience for young and old alike. Farmers hold a disproportionate share of federal voting power and otherwise have a huge influence upon Canadian economic and social networks. Many of the old timers can still remember hemp being used a wind break, animal bedding and feed on the family farm growing up. Building relationships with hemp farmers, businesses that make hemp products and stores that sell hemp are easy ways to help the cannabis plant back to its rightful place in society.
Being on the West Coast, it is very hard for me personally to help hemp farmers more, other than by promoting the use of hemp and buying as many products made using hemp as possible. I am especially a fan of the Canadian hemp hearts. I have now been a vegetarian (I eat eggs and dairy) for well over 13 years and am very healthy and fit, due in large part to the amount of cannabis I consume. One of my missions in life is to show how strong and fit people who smoke a lot of herb can be if they look after themselves properly, which includes eating hemp every day. Watch for TEAM 420, a hemp-powered business concept I have to encourage healthy living among cannabis advocates and break down misconceptions about the impacts of smoking herb.
The last group of professionals that I think the cannabis community should put some efforts into working with more closely is the academic world. University professor and college instructors have an obvious opportunity to educate the next generation about the uses of cannabis and the need for policy reforms. Students also have a chance to provide information and introduce arguments to their teachers both in class and in writing, something we encourage at our meetings at the University of Victoria, where the UVSS Hempology 101 Club is the largest student club on the campus.
I teach a free, non-credit Hempology 101 lecture series, that includes guest speakers like Dr. Susan Boyd, but I honestly should be getting more professors both teaching our lectures and attending the conventions. Most instructors love to talk and will come to public events to share their opinion when invitations are extended, if it fits into their usually very busy schedule. Taking the time to seek out and network with influential academics is an excellent way to push our agenda forward.
There are more opportunities to make a living in the cannabis culture or otherwise support the cause today than ever before. The speech I gave at the Vancouver Island University and this article complimenting those words are not intended to provide insights into all of the areas of concern or opportunity that I see. The possibilities are endless.
Every small step taken to learn or share knowledge about the cannabis plant is a step towards a future where we can use it in all of its various forms without fear of punishment. I thank everyone who walks that path with me.
Ted Smith is a long-time cannabis activist from Vancouver Island and works with the International Hempology 101 Society in Victoria. Click here for information about Hempology’s upcoming Stop S-10 Street Meets and find out how you can help!